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Pomele Bubinga Extension Dining Table


It was a little bit like the story of the poor cobblers kid who didn't have any shoes. It's not that I don't have any nice furniture in my house. Over the years I've built some duplicates of pieces that I was making for clients with the idea that they were spec pieces and that I'd sell them if I got the chance. A fair amount of those pieces have been in galleries and I've sold some. There's a few of them sprinkled around my place. I also make an extra chair with every set and I hang onto it to show clients. And use. When I remodeled my kitchen I found myself with a sudden need for a dining table. Unfortunately, I was suffering from Home Work Burnout and a bad case of the Great Recession Blues. A new dining table was going to have to wait. I'll get around to it one of these days......

To tide me over for the time being I slapped together a quick table out of a chunk of walnut plywood with a piece of nosing on one edge that I had laying around. For legs I ripped some strips of some other ply scrap and nailed them together to create 'L' shaped legs. I nailed and glued them to some more strips that I was using for rails and figured that that would hold up for a few months until I could make something real. The whole project took about a half hour. That was six years ago. 

old table

The half hour table

A few months ago I got a nice commission to build an extension table for a client in Santa Fe. The client picked some curly walnut veneer that I showed him and ended up with a sporty little table. While I was shopping on the veneer sites I found myself browsing around drooling over the Pomele Bubinga veneers and they lodged themselves in my little pea brain. When I found myself with a short blank in the schedule recently I decided that it was time. I knew that the top would have veneer in the field and a solid wood nosing on it, but I wasn't settled on a leg for the table.

Some years ago I was working with a decorator on a custom media cabinet made with Macassar Ebony veneer and we were looking through a book on the work of Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann - the Art Deco master. There was a chair in the book that was upholstered in an oxblood colored leather with bright white piping highlighting all the corners of the piece. It was very striking. Somehow that popped into my head when I was thinking about the legs on this table and I decided that I had my motif. I would make curved, tapering, octagonal legs with a white pinstripe on each of the corners and have the stripe run between the legs on the bottom of the rails. The problem was that I had no idea how the hell I was going to do that. 

After thinking my way through a couple of strategies I finally settled on ripping beveled strips of bubinga and gluing them together with a 1/16" veneer of aspen between them to create the octagonal blank with the pinstripes simultaniously. I would worry about how I was going to do the tapering curve later. 

mock up

First I had to work out my proportions for the legs as well as the table top. To make sure that I was visualizing everything properly I made mock up's of several permutations of the leg and played around with the curve and the taper until I got rid of the chubby ankles. I have a library of progressive curves I had made by a shop with a CNC that I turn to in situations like this. 

curve library

It's really easy to pull a few out and use them to try out slightly different curves. Once I've found the one that works I can then use it to lay out and flush cut leg templates, jigs etc. 

With the shape of the legs and top decided, I started ripping scrap and fussing with the table saw until I had it set to a perfect 22.5 degree bevel. This inexpensive, magnetic angle gauge makes short work of that. 

legs 4

I used some scrap cedar to test the set up and get it dialed to where I had the diameter I wanted.

legs 1

Then I made some longer strips to see how it looked. 

legs 2

For kicks I swabbed on some dye to get the look of the bubinga. Nice. 

legs 3

I resawed some aspen on the bandsaw and then ran it through my drum sander to get it thicknessed to 1/16".

legs 5

legs 6

Then it was time to commit. I was pretty sure I had my concept worked out but bubinga's not cheap and I was going out on a bit of a procedural limb. At some point, though, you've just got to start chopping stuff up. 

legs 7

After each beveled rip I ran the plank over the jointer to give me a nice edge for glueing.

legs 8

Unfortunately, there was some tension in the plank and the strips were coming off of the saw with a little twist. I thought that I'd be able to pull them into alignment for glue up, but bubinga isn't cedar. With any normal wood I might have been able to do that, but working with bubinga is a little like working with granite and it just wouldn't suck up. By this point it was the end of the day and I was smart enough to roll it up and spend the evening doing some chin scratching, beer sipping and cogitating, hoping that I hadn't just turned a couple hundred dollars of exotic wood into a couple hundred dollars of kindling. 

legs 10

 The next day I decided to step back and do the glue up in stages. If I glued two strips of bubinga together, with a piece of aspen between them, I would have a quarter of a leg. These would be easy to joint into a 90 degree section and then the glue up would be smooth. 

 legs 11

legs 12

legs 13

legs 14

With the quarter legs glued and jointed it was a cinch to put together the whole leg blank. I use pallet wrap, a non-adhesive, stretchy plastic tape for lots of things in the shop. It's, of course, great for bundling up parts that are getting loaded for delivery, holding blankets on finished pieces etc. It's also  handy for clamping up oddball shaped glue ups like these legs. Since you stretch it and do multiple wraps you can put quite a bit of pressure on something like this. 

legs 15

With the leg blanks successfully glued up it was time to figure out how I was going to cut them to precise curving tapers. Drawing layout lines on octagonal blanks and bandsawing them wasn't going to work since the line would have to wrap around 2 faces. The cuts also had to be really precise since all of the faces had to meet right at the 1/16" line of aspen. In the end I decided to build a jig with a curving face that could run against a bearing. The legs could be mounted between 2 blocks with a screw through the center of each leg so that they could pivot. Then I could drill some indexing holes in one end of the legs which would hold the legs at 8 different positions so that each facet of the leg could be bandsawed and then flush cut on the shaper. Here's how it worked. 

In this photo I'm laying out the curve on the jig bottom with one of the curves from the library.

legs 16

I screwed the jig bottom to the curve template and flush cut it.

legs 17

Then I drilled indexing holes in one end of the legs.

legs 18

I screwed some blocks and handles to my jig, mounted the leg with the center screws and then locked it in into the right orientation with a screw in the indexing hole. 

legs 19

legs 20

Here you can see how the edge of the jig curves and tapers in relation to the leg blank. 

legs 21

With the jig made it was then a simple and repeatable process to mount a leg and bandsaw one face keeping the blade close to, but not touching the face of the jig. 

legs 22

Then, without changing anything, I took the jig, with the leg in it, to the shaper and ran it against the bearing on my flush cutter.

 legs 24

With one face finished I could take out the indexing screw, turn to the next flat on the leg and do it all again. In a few minutes I had the first leg done.

legs 25

Making the jig took about a half hour. Running the curved tapers on all of the legs took less than an hour. 

legs 26

After all of the legs were done I was left with the off cuts from the bandsaw. It turns out that bubinga scrap makes good kindling after all.

legs 27

Once I was finished shaping the legs I decided that I needed a detail to finish out the bottom of the legs somehow. I settled on some delicate white feet made from the aspen so that it looked like the white stripes just spread out into the feet. I could've just made them be straight across the bottom of the leg, but nooooooo, I couldn't possibly do anything that would make life easier for myself. I just had to decide to make the tops of the feet be scalloped, so that they dipped down between the pinstripes. That little detail took some chin scratching. In the end I came up with a little system that was pretty slick and quick. It started with making a router jig that I could use to make repetitive curved cuts on the bottom of the legs. I did the layout on the jig material by just touching the plywood with a running drill bit that was the right diameter. This gave me a perfect circular curved layout line.

feet 1

Then I took it to the bandsaw and did a cut close to the mark.

feet 2

 After filing right up to the line I nailed some strips onto the jig that followed the shape of the leg. In the end it looked like this. 

 feet jig

The feet are 1/16" veneers that are let into the bottom of the leg. To rough out that recess I ran the legs over a straight bit on the router table using a stop to keep from cutting too far.

feet 4

I started by cutting every other facet of the legs and they looked like this when they were roughed out. 

feet 5

Then I friction fit the routing jig over the leg and ran a straight bit against the nipple on the end of the jig to make the scalloped cut.

feet 6

That gave me this. I then pared the leftover corners off with a chisel. 

feet 7

I struggled over how I was going to make the little inlays so that they weren't going to take a week to fit to the curves on the legs. I ended up just making strips of veneer that were the right width and cutting them to length with a forsner bitt. It was the right radius and it made it really fast to knock out a bunch of matching inlays.

feet 3

Then I buttered the inlays up with a little glue, clamped them up with some pallet wrap and went to lunch.

feet 8

feet 9

When the glue was dry I repeated the procedure with the remaining flats. By doing every other facet like this I got really nice fuss free joints where the veneers met at the corners.

feet 10

feet 11

With the legs finished it was time to cut some mortises. I ran them with my hollow chisel mortiser. 

mortising 1

I set it up so that it just barely removed the white line where the rail was going to meet the leg. That way in the end the line would take a turn and run along the rail instead of going to the top of the leg. 

mortising 2

I cut the tenons on my shaper using the sliding table and 2 rabbeting cutters. If you want to see more about that operation look at the curly walnut table article

rails 1

This is what the cutters look like. 

rails 2

I used a curve from the library to layout the curve on the top of the rails.

rails 4

Then I bandsawed them.

rails 5

After cutting the bow on the faces and the arch on the bottom edge I cleaned them up with hand planes to get a fair curve.

rails 8

By sighting down the curve you can see where it's a little off. 

rails 6

I set up a trim router to cut a little rabbet on the bottom corner of the rails where the aspen inlay was going to go.

rails 9


rails 10

Then I glued in the aspen veneer and held it with some tape while the glue dried.

rails 11

I dry fit the base to be sure that everything went together nicely but before I glued the base up I cut the side rails in half. This was going to be an extension table, so the rails split in the middle of the side rails and it's easier to do before the base is assembled.

base assembled

base glue up

Time to do some veneering. I'm going to kind of skim over this part since the information is in the curly walnut table article if you're interested in reading about it. 

top 1

top 3

This is a jig for holding the stack of veneers for cutting nice straight edges.

top 5

top 7

top 10

This is one half of the top taped up and ready to glue to the MDF core. The center of the table is book matched with sequential leafs of veneer.

top 11

top 16

Into the vacuum bag.

top 18

When the panels are out of the bag I sand the bulk of the glue squeeze out off but I don't do the final sanding until the nosing and pin striping are on. 

top 19

Using a library curve again to layout and cut the top. One of the great features of these curves is that the inside and outside radius are the same. This means that you can use them to cut mating pieces like where the nosing attaches to the field of the top. In this next series I layout, rough out and then flush cut the field and the nosings.

top 25

top 26

top 27

top 30

top 31

Once the curves were cut on the inside of the nosings I could put the straight outside edge against the fence of my slider and cut the miters. After the miters were cut and glued on I cut the outside curves. This is much easier than trying to cut miters on banana shaped nosings. 

top 32

With the miters cut I then cut the side nosings in half at the joint between the two halves of the top and clamped it all up with a ratchet strap to make sure that everything was tight. 

top 33

Then I used my Domino machine to punch in some Dominos. Not so much for strength, but just because the Domino gives you such excellent alignment. The veneers are only 1/42" thick and easy to sand through (that would be a bit of a disaster), so I want to do as little sanding to flush nosings to the field as possible. 

top 34

top 35

Flush cutting the outside curve.

top 36

Here I'm routing and inlaying a 1/16" strip of aspen between the nosing and the field. 

top 37

top 38

It helps to get the strip to go in if you squish it a little just before you glue it in. 

top 39

top 40

top 42

With the pin striping in I did a final sanding of the whole table and then attached the top to the base to do a final fit before finish.


top 43

Since the pommel bubinga was so spectacular I wanted to give it every opportunity to show off. To that end I decided to give the table a full fill, high gloss finish. This involved spraying on 4 coats of a catalyzed sealer to fill in the big pores that bubinga has and sanding between coats until the surface was perfectly flat. Then I finished it with a high gloss, catalyzed top coat. The finish was all done with water borne material and it came out really nicely. Lots of warmth, good color and great clarity. 

finished detail 1

finished detail 4

detail 1

detail 2

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You can see more of my custom dining tables and other furniture in the Custom Furniture galleries in the tool bar.